Knock, Knock

I was deciding what to post today and lacking any particular inspiration, I just closed my eyes and moved my mouse cursor over my categories cloud list on my blog sidebar.  I decided to write on whatever category topic the cursor ended up resting on.  Guess what!?!?  It landed on “horror”.

Now this was a bit strange and eerie as my topic selection method was not too different from the Ouija board method.  Was I “guided” by unseen forces?  hahaha -hahaha (nervous laugh).

Actually, I do enjoy tales of the supernatural and the unexplained and I have posted about this before under “horror” and “folklore” categories.  However, I was surprised to find out, when I checked, that I hadn’t done a post on this theme for almost 3 years.  So it seems that such a post is due.

Now, strangely enough, I just had someone tell me about a story yesterday that I had not heard of previously and was quite interesting.  Coincidence?  Anyway, here is the story:-

In 1972, the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) decided to carry out an experiment to research into contacting spiritual beings.  Dr. A.R.G. Owen, a member of the Department For Preventative Medicine and Biostatistics at the University of Toronto, assembled a  team of people who were considered prominent or respectable members of society and who did not have any particular previous interest or involvement in the paranormal.  In all, there were three men and five women in the group and included a housewife, a bookkeeper, a sociology student, an accountant, an industrial designer, a psychologist, and a former chairperson of MENSA.

Together they met regularly to contact the spirit of one “Philip Aylesford”.

Philip was an English aristocrat who lived sometime in the mid 1600’s.  He lived at his family home, Diddington Manor and had a wife named Dorothea who was the daughter of a neighbouring nobleman.  The marriage was not a happy one.


Then, one day Philip came across a gypsy encampment near the boundaries of his lands and met Margo, a dark haired gypsy beauty.  He fell in love with her and set her up to live at he gatehouse of his estate.  In this manner, they maintained their liaison in secret.


However eventually Dorothea, found out about Philip’s affair and publicly denounced Margo, accusing her of witchcraft and stealing her husband.  Being a nobleman and a Catholic, the scandal was a great shame and a smear on his family name.  In fear of losing his reputation and his possessions, Philip did not protest or come to Margo’s aid during her trial.  Finally, Margo was convicted of witchcraft and burned to death at the stake.


But guilt and remorse would plague Philip after Margo’s death and unable to sleep, he would often pace the walls of Diddington Manor at night, until one day, his broken body was found at the foot of the walls – an apparent suicide.

As you can see, Philip’s tragic story seemed to make him a perfect subject in an experiment trying to make contact with the spirit of the deceased.

Anyway, the team tried to make contact with Philip’s spirit in a laboratory setting with equipment to record sound, photos and video.  Nothing much happened initially.  They tried for several months and apart from a couple of participants saying that they felt a presence, there was no tangible evidence of anything supernatural.

The team re-evaluated and one member suggested that they try to get away from an academic environment and mimic a seance where they would sit around a table in a dimly lit room with their fingers placed lightly on the tabletop.  Objects from the 1600’s were also placed in the room.  It was thought that this might be a more conducive environment for their goals.

It did not take long for strange things to occur.  It started with a loud rapping sound which was repeated on many occasions.  This sound was recorded and analysed and it is said that nothing found in the room created a sound that matched what was heard.  They were then able to communicate with the spirit by asking the spirit to rap or knock once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’.

In this way, they were able to confirm that the spirit was Philip and were able to receive answers to many questions that they asked Philip about his life and the period that he lived in.  Interestingly when asked if he loved his wife, Dorothea, he replied with a very loud double rap.  At other times, when Dorothea was mentioned, the team heard scratching sounds rather than raps.

philip experiment

As the sessions progressed over many months, the manifestations grew stronger.  Some members began to hear answers to questions asked being whispered in their ear.  There were also occasions when the table tilted to the side, or jumped or spun on one or two legs and even rising up and sliding across a carpeted floor.  Lights would go off but come on again when asked to do so.  Strong wind could be felt.  Once a member was trapped in a corner by the moving table.  Every attempt was made to rule out that someone in the group was perpetuating a hoax and no evidence of a hoax was found (Skeptical Squirrel: “although that doesn’t necessary mean that a hoax is completely ruled out”).

This seems to be one of the best documented cases of communication with the spirit of the dead. Are you convinced yet?

Unfortunately, there is a problem; a fly in the ointment in what became known as the Philip Experiment.

The problem was that Philip never existed.  Philip was a fictitious character that the team was asked to create.  Before doing the experiments, They came together and helped write the life-story of Philip.  They even had an artist do a portrait sketch of the imaginary Philip.  Some true facts were included but “traps” were also set so that a trickster may be caught.  For example, Diddington Manor does actually exist but the description of the manor given to the team was incorrect.

The “Philip” that communicated with them during the experiment gave answers that fit the story that they had collectively concocted, including facts and factual errors that had been included.

So what is the conclusions that we can draw from this strange set of events?  Firstly, the team was in fact trying to “create a ghost”.  They were testing the hypothesis that ‘ghosts’ could be produced somehow by the human mind, as in this case, it would seem they could even create a ghost of someone that never existed.

However, the phenomena that they witnessed both surprised and even terrified them.  It exceeded anything they imagined they could achieve and to the best of our knowledge, no scientific explanation has been forthcoming as to how they were able to create those phenomena with stories in their minds.  Some say that the Philip experiment does prove the power of our minds in creating the paranormal.  Remembering though that seances were originally conceived by people attempting to contact their dead relatives, others suggest that the phenomena may indicate malicious or at best mischievous spiritual entities that try to deceive us by giving us what we want to hear.

Two interesting footnotes to the Philip Experiment story.  First, all phenomena came to an abrupt end after one of the team members said, “we only made you up, you know”.  Secondly, the experiment has been repeated around the world with different groups trying contact  Lilith, a French Canadian spy;  Sebastian, a medieval alchemist;  Skippy, an abused Australian 14 year old girl and even Axel, a man from the future. All of them were completely fictional, yet all produced similar unexplained communications with an entity/entities claiming to be them.

Any thoughts on the matter?

13 thoughts on “Knock, Knock”

  1. wow that’s fascinating and a bit scary. I keep it on the power of the mind We only know a tiny fraction about it

  2. Mr.Charleston,
    Good to see you here in the Realn. While the experiment was interesting and seemingly pointing to the fact that there is something that we don’t understand and are able to explain at the moment, I think it doesn’t go far enough to help us decide exactly what is happening. Certainly, it can be seen to give some support for the Existentialism position. Or maybe it just shows how dumb we are?

  3. Very interesting ! I did not know it.
    I think it is a very successful experiment and they achieved their goal 100 % : They created their own ghost.
    It shows how seances work(ed) – from the days of Schrenck-Notzing until today. It proves that a group of persons can seemingly unwillingly produce something new, create effects, “let things happen”. Trickery is not absolutely ruled out, but I would like to think it is not too probable.
    But I think it explains nothing.
    The experiment was even re-produced with similar results. Things happened, but how and why, is and stays unclear. It may be Psychokinesis, it may be a “bad spirit” that liked to fool the participants, it may be total self-delusion – all these explanations tell only about the person who uses them, tell about the person’s beliefs (still unverifyed powers / natural science ; classical spirits / occultism ; psychology / a subform of occultism).
    I do not see the connection to existentialism – perhaps my knowledge about this kind of philosophy is too small.

  4. Debra,
    The power of our minds? There certainly is evidence of that like in how some people respond to placebos in medical trials. But moving tables is something else. I would need more evidence.

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